TAIPEI: A train that derailed and killed 18 people in Taiwan was speeding when it flipped off the tracks, a court said Tuesday, with the driver suspected of ‘professional negligence’ for switching off a speed control system.
The crash on the popular east coast line injured 187 people Sunday and left the Puyuma Express lying zig-zagged across the tracks in the island’s deadliest rail accident for a quarter century.
The injured driver, identified by his family name Yu, was released on bail Tuesday after being interrogated by prosecutors and returned to hospital where he was being treated for injuries including a fractured rib.
A statement from Yilan district court, which had reviewed evidence and questioned Yu as part of the bail hearing, said he had admitted to turning off the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system used to monitor speed due to problems with the train’s power supply.
As the train approached Xinma station, the site of the crash, it was travelling at 140 kph instead of the 80 kph speed limit imposed due to a curve in the track, the court said.
Yu said he had turned off the system at an earlier station and had not switched it on again because he had been talking to a rail coordinator, describing the move as ‘professional negligence’.
“As he had turned off the ATP, he did not have the assistance of automatic speed monitoring and braking and should have taken necessary reactive measures, knowing there was a big curve ahead, instead of hitting the brake near the platform that led to the derailment,” the statement said.
A spokesman for the Yilan district prosecutors’ office, Chiang Chen-yu, told reporters there had been discrepancies between the driver’s statement, evidence collected and witness accounts.
“There is a strong suspicion of (the driver’s) guilt,” Chiang added.
Yu did not comment when asked by reporters outside the court if he turned off the device or was speeding.
Passengers recalled how the train had been shaking intensely during the journey and was going “too fast” before it derailed.
An official from the Taiwan Railways Administration said previously that the train driver had reported a pressure device used for braking had malfunctioned 30 minutes before the accident.
The administration confirmed that a Puyuma Express train also derailed last year on the same line, but no one was injured.
In total, Taiwan has a fleet of 19 Puyuma Express trains, all made in Japan.
The crash was the worst rail accident in Taiwan since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in Miaoli in western Taiwan. — AFP